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Spin Control

Posts tagged: legislature

Legislators’ free meal limit: 12 per year

OLYMPIA — Legislators could accept as many as a dozen free meals from lobbyists each year under a new rule adopted by their ethics committee.
But in what could be described as only a partial victory for public accountability, their constituents will have no way of keeping track of those meals unless legislators agree to change state law next year. . . 

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Sunday spin: Reaching a deal on crucial meal policies

OLYMPIA – A special panel made a great leap forward last week, coming to an agreement on defining one of the thorniest issues in legislative policy.

Not tax policy or basic education policy or health care policy. Meal policy.

As in how many meals can a lobbyist buy before a legislator runs afoul of the state law that requires him or her to accept only “infrequent” meals from a lobbyist? And just what, exactly, is a meal?

The Legislative Ethics Board settled on 12 meals a year as being infrequent, although a legislator could take them all in a 60-day legislative session, or presumably in a single week of a session, because there’s no rule limiting them to one per month. This was a compromise, seemingly worthy of Henry Clay, because some board members wanted to go as low as three and others were pushing for 24 or points north.

Those who were looking for a higher number had concerns such as whether it would count against the allotted dozen if friends who just happen to be lobbyists come to town and offer to buy you lunch (it would). Or whether it would count if said friend invites you to his backyard barbecue (it would). Or whether it would count if a lobbyist bought you a donut (it wouldn’t, unless the donut came with coffee and you sat down and had a chat about legislative business, in which case it might.)

There was some expected harrumphing from members of the board who argued they couldn’t be swayed by a beer and burrito, or presumably filet mignon and Chateauneuf-du-Pape. One member, Rep. Drew Hansen, D-Bainbridge, thought 12 was too many because that broke down to one per month and, as he related in a moment of possibly unnecessary marital candor, “I don’t go out for dinner with my wife once a month.”

Hansen and others pushing a lower number had an easy work-around. Go to as many meals with lobbyists as you want, if they are your good buds and you enjoy their company. Just pay for your own meal. Legislators are getting their per diems bumped to $120 so “they can certainly pay for their own $7 burrito,” Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle said.

As for the definition of a meal, it comes down to any breakfast, lunch or dinner that a lobbyist or a lobbyist’s employer buys, it counts against your 12.

Perhaps we should consider ourselves lucky that legislators are not like hobbits, who had seven meals a day: Breakfast, second breakfast, elevenses, luncheon, afternoon tea, dinner and supper. The ethics board might never reach a compromise.

Court to Legislature: Sanctions possible for lousy school plan

OLYMPIA – A recent report on how the state will spend more money on education is so inadequate the state Supreme Court threatened Thursday to hold the Legislature in contempt.

The state’s highest court said the Legislature’s latest update on how the state can meet its constitutional duty of properly paying for public schools does not follow the instructions the justices issued in January. It ordered a hearing in September and told the Legislature to send someone ready to explain why the court shouldn’t levy a fine or take over the budget process until education is properly funded.

The order, technically known as a Show Cause Order, could ignite the simmering constitutional dispute between the Legislature and the court. . . 

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Sunday Spin: How to make freebie meals very infrequent

OLYMPIA – A special panel is struggling to tell legislators how often they can break bread – and drink various beverages – with lobbyists.

State law already carries the stricture that such activities should be “infrequent.” The task for Legislative Ethics Board – a group of legislators and citizens who set rules for the conduct of senators and representatives – is deciding when does one move beyond infrequent to frequent.

Is it one dinner a month? Lunch every third Thursday? One dinner, one lunch and two coffee dates a week?

This argument may seem to fall somewhere between medieval scholars debating how many angels fit on the point of a pin and Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s definition of pornography as “I know it when I see it” . . . 

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Special session on budget starts Nov. 28

OLYMPIA — The Legislature gets to spend the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas playing Scrooge to state agencies.

Gov. Chris Gregoire said she is calling legislators back for a special session starting Nov. 28 to deal with declining revenue projections that are likely to decline even more before they get here.

Nov. 28 is the Monday after Thanksgiving, and by law a special session can last up to 30 days. How long it lasts is up to legislators, who will be wrestling with Gregoire's request to cut $2 billion out of the budget they approved for the 2011-13 fiscal cycle just five months ago…

Gregoire: No special session before November

Gov. Chris Gregoire at the Suncadia Lodge.

CLE ELUM — Washington's economic outlook is so much more likely to get worse in the next two months that Gov. Chris Gregoire said she won't call the Legislature into a special session until November.

“It would be premature for me to call them back before the next forecast. They need to know how large the problem is,” Gregoire said.

Speaking to the annual “policy summit” of the Association of Washington Business, Gregoire said the state's chief economist has told her it's about four times more likely the state's revenue outlook will be worse for his November forecast than it was last week. That's when he said the state can expect a drop of about $1.4 billion from the amount the Legislature expected when it wrote the 2011-13 general fund budget.

Before last week's forecast, Gregoire told state agencies to prepare plans to cut 5 percent and 10 percent from their current appropriations. But Chief Economist Arun Raha's forecast last week essentially blew those apart.

“Neither of those would be enough,” she said.

The asssociation, which represents businesses throughout the state, is holding its annual conference at the Suncadia Lodge, a golf, winery and lodging complex on the eastern slope of the Cascades. Advocates for higher taxes on businesses are massed at the entrance, demanding an end to tax preferences — they use the term loopholes — for businesses rather than another “all cuts” budget.

Gregoire didn't mention a tax preferences of a tax hike in her talk to the business leaders, and none asked her about them in the brief question and answer session after her speech. But she left open the prospect that the state would consider some, urging the crowd “everything is on the table” — presumably taxes as well as cuts.

“I'm asking you… not to draw lines in the sand,” she said.

With bad revenue forecast, can special session be far behind?

OLYMPIA – With economic recovery described as “a mirage in the desert” and a projected gap between income and spending growing to $1.4 billion, state officials began setting the stage Thursday for a special legislative session that would find ways to cut more from the budget.

“The November forecast may bring more bad news so we can't wait until the start of session in January to take action,” Gov. Chris Gregoire said in a prepared statement released as the Economic Forecasting Council ended its meeting. “Today's forecast demands that we take action.”

Arun Raha, the state’s chief economist, told the forecasting council that tax collections fell below projections this summer, and the Washington economy can expect continued problems over the rest of this two-year budget cycle.

Jobs aren’t coming back at a pace that is lowering the unemployment rate. Foreclosures are likely to go up and home construction is off. State revenues may be about $500 million below previous projections through June 30, 2012, and $900 million lower in the next fiscal year. Normal economic times “seem like a mirage in the desert, the closer we get to it, the further it moves away,” Raha said.

The four legislators on the council all seemed to expect some type of session to be called this fall, although they disagreed on how it might be structured or what it should consider…

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Legislative pay cut: Some say yes, some say no

OLYMPIA – About half of the 15 members of the Spokane-area legislative delegation have volunteered for the same level of pay cuts the imposed on state workers. That’s a level slightly better than legislators statewide.

Many who have done it, like Rep. Kevin Parker, R-Spokane, say it’s a personal decision.

“As a businessman, the buck starts and stops with me,” said Parker, who owns a chain of coffee shops. “It’s the same with us as legislators.”

Parker’s seatmate in Spokane’s 6th District, Republican John Ahern, said he doesn’t plan to ask for a pay cut, but he is donating 3 percent or more to charities, ranging from his church and the Boy Scouts to organizations that oppose abortion like Teen-Aid.

“This way I know exactly where the money is going,” Ahern said. If he took a pay cut, the money would stay in the state’s general fund, and go to state programs or agencies he doesn’t support….

To read the rest of this item, or for a list of the Spokane-area delegation's decisions on a voluntary pay cut, click here to go inside the blog

Not much of a grading curve

Washington state got an F in initiatives last week.
Not that the state enrolled in Ballot Measures 101 or anything. We graduated with a degree in initiatives and referendums in 1914, when state residents added that power to the constitution.
But the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, a Washington, D.C., group which bills itself as a place that “strengthens democracy by building a national progressive strategy for ballot issues”, annually grades states for the kinds of changes it thinks the states should make to “ensure the integrity of their initiative process.” It has looked at our laws and determined that we don’t rate. For the third year in a row.
Don’t be smirking over there, Idaho. You got an F, too.
In its 25-point test, Washington got graded down for not having 14 of the things the center thought a good state should have. Things like keeping folks from re-running the same initiative for at least three years or requiring notarized affidavits that all signatures are gathered within the law or banning companies for paying people based on the number of signatures they gather. They have some interesting and even debatable ideas, which could be why the Legislature has debated many of them, but never approved them.
Chances are good some Washington progressive groups will propose legislation along those lines again next year.
But those groups might want to think twice about citing Washington’s failing grade from the Center as a reason to change state law. In grading all 24 states that have the initiative process, the Center flunked half, gave out one B, one C, and the rest Ds. That’s not a curve, it’s a slope like a ski jump.
Most teachers who turned in a grade book like that would be answering questions about what was wrong with their methods, not with their class.
Seems like a more honest way to grade initiatives might be to give states that don’t allow them an F, and work up from there. Just sayin.

No decision on special session

OLYMPIA — After nearly two hours behind closed doors, legislative leaders and Gov. Chris Gregoire broke their huddle over budget problems but emerged with no consensus on a special session to close at least some of a gap of $1.1 billion projected for the remainder of the fiscal year.

The only agreement seemed to be that the meeting was “productive.”

“We’re all moving in the right direction,” Sen. Joe Zarelli of Ridgefield, the Senate Republicans’ budget expert, said. But there’s no specific time table for making decisions, although his preference is “sooner rather than later.”

Democrats said they needed more time to get consensus on possible cuts. Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said a short session that could cut “hundreds of millions” out of the budget only makes sense if they could reach an agreement. But he won’t know if that agreement is possible for his caucus until next week, when legislators are gathering for interim committee meetings.

Rep. Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, said House Democrats are also discussing different ideas for cuts.

Some of the big ticket items on lists proposed by Gregoire and Senate Republicans include the state’s Disability Lifeline program and the Basic Health Program. Scaling back or eliminating those programs could be difficult in a special session that lasts only a couple days, as Gregoire wants. And there are questions whether such major changes should be made by outgoing legislators in a lame-duck session, or the new crop of legislators elected in November, who take office next month.

But whether the cuts are made this month, or after the new Legislature meets in January, the cuts could affect to affect public schools, state colleges, services for seniors, the disabled and workers who don’t have health care benefits at their job and rely on the state for the Basic Health plan, Murray said.

“What programs I can’t answer until I talk to our members,” he said.

Because of falling revenue projections over the last three months, the state faces a gap of about $1.1 billion between the cost of programs and salaries it has on the books and the revenue it can expect to take in between now and the end of June. Gregoire ordered a 6.3 percent across-the-board reduction in October in most departments and programs not protected by the state constitution, but last month’s revenue projection suggests that’s not enough and the state needs to cut more, either this month in a special session or at the beginning of the new session before tackling a budget for 2011-13 in which revenue projections are also down.

Another meeting between Gregoire and legislative leaders is scheduled for Thursday, with more possible on Friday and Saturday.


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About this blog

Jim Camden is a veteran political reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Jonathan Brunt is an enterprise reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Kip Hill is a general assignments reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Nick Deshais covers Spokane City Hall for The Spokesman-Review.

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